Top News from Israel & Palestine: November 16, 2020

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Givat Hamatos: the Rubicon Has Been Crossed,

The decision to proceed with the construction of Givat Hamatos is the most defiant and inflammatory settlement move in recent memory, and should be treated as such. The construction of Givat Hamatos will create a buffer, contributing to an effective seal between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In addition, Givat Hamatos will, for the first time, completely surround an East Jerusalem neighborhood, Beit Safafa, with Israel construction, making the implementation of the Clinton parameters in East Jerusalem impossible.  Givat Hamatos will have a devastating impact on the very possibility of a future two-state outcome.”

URGENT: Givat Hamatos Tender for 1257 HU Open for Bidding,

“Today, the tender for construction on Givat Hamatos has been opened for bidding and will close on January 18, 2021, two days before the Inauguration of US president-elect Joe Biden. The opening of the bidding has been postponed three times since its publication in February. Originally designated for 1077 housing units, the current tender is for the construction of 1257 housing units. While the tender has been opened and it’s booklet for contractors published, the Israel Land Authority and Ministry of Housing are not yet accepting bids, which is most likely a technical issue and will be accepting them momentarily. The opening of the tender significantly decreases the potentiality to effectively block Israeli building in the area. Concerted opposition and pressure to freeze the tender is therefore vital in this limited window of time. If carried through, Givat Hamatos would become the first new settlement in East Jerusalem in 20 years. Located in a particularly strategic area, Givat Hamatos (along with Har Homa E and E1) has constituted a longstanding international red line due its impact on the prospects of a viable two-state framework with two capitals in Jerusalem. By creating a contiguous Israeli built-up area between the existing settlements of Gilo and Har Homa, construction in Givat Hamatos will serve to seal off the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern part of the West Bank, while isolating the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. The next two months in lead-up to the change in the US Presidential Administration will be a critical period. We believe that Israel will attempt to exploit this time to advance moves that the incoming administration will potentially oppose. It is crucial that the international community remain vigilant.”

The Tender in Givat Hamatos Opened with 1,257 units,

“Construction in Givat Hamatos will severely hamper the prospect of a two-state solution because it will ultimately block the possibility of territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem–the main Palestinian metropolitan area–and will prevent Palestinian Beit Safafa from connecting with a future Palestinian state…The meaning of the publication of the Tender Booklet is that now the tender is open for bids and contractors may submit their proposals to win the right to build the units in Givat Hamatos. The final day for submitting the proposals is January 18th, 2021, three days before the change in the US administration…This is a major blow to the prospects for peace and the possibility of a two-state solution. This Netanyahu-Gantz government was established to fight the coronavirus but instead it is taking advantage of the final weeks of the Trump administration in order to set facts on the ground that will be exceedingly hard to undo in order to achieve peace. This tender can still be stopped. We hope that those in this government who still have some sense of responsibility for our future will do what they can to cancel the tender before bids are submitted.”

Israel Promotes Jerusalem Settlement Project, Bid Ends Two Days Before Biden Takes Office,

“The Israel Lands Authority issued a call for tenders Sunday for construction of a new neighborhood in Jerusalem beyond the pre-1967 border after being suspended for years. The plans for the neighborhood, which would cut off the Palestinian town of Beit Safafa from surrounding towns, were drawn up several years ago, but were frozen following international opposition. The final date for submitting a tender is January 18, 2021, two days  before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Under former President Barack Obama, the United States strongly opposed construction at Givat Hamatos, located in southern Jerusalem, arguing that it would make a future division of Jerusalem impossible.”


Also See

PM Shtayyeh: Israel is in a race against time to create a fait accompli before Trump leaves office,

“Israel is in a race against time to create a fait accompli in Palestine before US President Donald Trump leaves office, today said Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. “There appears to be an escalating and intensive assault plan for the next 10 weeks in a race against time to create a new fait accompli before Donald Trump leaves the White House on January 21,” said Shtayyeh speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting held in Ramallah. The Prime Minister made reference to a number of new Israeli settlement projects in the occupied territories as proof of this race.”

UN Mideast Envoy Mladenov Calls on Israel to Stop Jerusalem Settlement Project,

“UN envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov voiced his concern Monday over Israel’s settlement expansion project in a Jerusalem neighborhood beyond the Green Line, calling on Israel to stop the the bidding tender. On Sunday, the Israel Lands Authority formally opened the bidding process by issuing a call for tenders on Sunday for construction of the new neighborhood beyond the pre-1967 border. The plans for the neighborhood, which would cut off the Palestinian town of Beit Safafa from surrounding towns, were drawn up several years ago, but were frozen following international opposition.  “If built, it would further consolidate a ring of settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank,” Mladenov said.”

Also See: “Statement by High Representative Josep Borrell on settlement expansion in Givat Hamatos” (European Union External Action Service)

Right-wing activists chase EU envoy from site of planned East Jerusalem project,

“Right-wing demonstrators chased the European Union’s top representative to the Palestinians away from the East Jerusalem site of a planned new housing project, calling him an anti-Semite and a supporter of terrorism. Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff later said that while he did not feel threatened, he regretted that he had been unable to conduct a constructive dialogue with the protesters. He had planned to lead a delegation of diplomats from 13 EU member states to protest Israel’s plan to expand Givat Hamatos, a neighborhood where Israeli authorities on Sunday opened bidding on the construction of new homes…Von Burgsdorff and the other European diplomats, including representatives from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries, were greeted by about a dozen activists from the right-wing Im Tirzu movement as they arrived in the area. They shouted slogans such as “EU, shame on you,” and “Go back to Europe,” and accused the European officials of supporting terrorism. Several activists repeatedly called the European diplomats “anti-Semites.”” Also See: “Israelis protest EU delegation’s visit to planned settlement” (AP)

FMEP Resources

Settlement & Annexation Report: November 13, 2020,

“Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is spearheading an effort to expedite the retroactive legalization of at least 1,700 illegally built structures in settlements across the West Bank, including notoriously radical and violent outposts like Yitzhar. The other settlements and outposts reportedly slated to receive approvals from the Israeli government are Beitar Illit, Modi’in Illit, Maale Adumim, Ariel, Ateret, Halamish, Adora, and Otniel. The process of granting retroactive legalization to illegal construction both in settlements and in illegal outposts has been an ongoing effort from within and outside of the Bibi government for decades, and has adopted a renewed urgency during the Trump-Bibi era – especially now that Trump is poised to exit the White House in January 2021. In fact, Jerusalem Post reports that granting authorization to 70-100 outposts is at the top of the settlers’ lobbying agenda as the Trump days dwindle.”

FMEP Legislative Round-Up: November 13, 2020,

A weekly roundup of Middle East related happenings on Capitol Hill.

Occupation, Annexation, Human Rights, & Humanitarian Needs

UNRWA chief fears ‘disaster’ in Gaza, ‘insecurity’ in Lebanon amid cash crunch,

“Last week, Lazzarini announced that UNRWA faced a $70 million funding shortfall that has jeopardized its ability to pay staff full salaries in November and December. The shortfall affects 28,000 staffers across the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Jordan. The situation is particularly critical in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave of two million people where the unemployment rate is over 50 percent and where the novel coronavirus crisis has led authorities to slash public sector salaries.”

Israel attacks Hamas positions after rockets fired from Gaza,

“Two rockets were fired into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip late on Saturday, the Israeli army said, although there were no immediate reports of casualties or any damage. The Israeli army tweeted that it “struck Hamas underground infrastructure and military posts in Gaza” on Sunday morning – using fighter jets, helicopters and tanks – and it “is conducting an ongoing situational assessment & remains prepared to operate against any terror activity”.” Also See: “Israeli army strikes Gaza Strip overnight

Israel Says a Palestinian Teen Fell and Died as He Fled Soldiers. But a Witness Describes Gruesome Violence,

“The Israel Defense Forces stated the following day that it was their forces that had been pursuing Snobar, but that he apparently tripped or lost consciousness and struck his head, and that that is what caused his death. At the site where Snobar was killed, on the shoulders of the internal road near the entrance of Turmus Ayya, next to Hugo Chavez Hospital, there is no place where one could fall and be killed by hitting his head, as the army maintains. The IDF also stated that the soldiers summoned an ambulance and tended to Snobar until it arrived. Snobar died in a Palestinian ambulance on the way to the Government Hospital in Ramallah (the Chavez hospital is currently receiving only coronavirus patients). People who saw the body related that there were contusions on the head and chest and that the teenager was covered in blood. Who killed him? Or, perhaps, what killed him? And why?”

Occupation in the Time of COVID-19: Holding Israel Accountable for Palestinian Health,

“This policy brief addresses three ways that the legal framework of occupation as defined by international humanitarian law (IHL) has failed the provision of public health to Palestinians in the time of COVID-19. Firstly, it explores the active and passive “de-development” of the Palestinian health system prior to the pandemic. Secondly, it examines the ways in which Israel has not fulfilled its legal obligations towards the Palestinians regarding COVID-19. And finally, it analyzes the ways in which the occupation has worsened the health situation by restricting Palestinian initiatives. Although IHL is arguably limited in protecting the rights of oppressed populations, this brief uses IHL language to hold Israel accountable for Palestinian public health. In doing so, it argues that even by the imperfect standards agreed upon by the international community, Israel is not fulfilling its minimum legal duties as an occupying power in this time of public health crisis. By failing to meet these obligations, Israel has actively contributed to the deterioration of Palestinians’ health and well-being. The brief proposes several policy recommendations to address the crisis of Palestinian health during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

B’Tselem Director in European Parliament: Europe must move from words to action,

“Let me be clear: Israel knows, from decades of experience, that the worst it will have to deal with is such inconsequential expressions of concern. Israeli bulldozers on their way to demolish the next home of a defenseless Palestinian are driving on roads paved with such empty rhetoric. Every time euphemisms are used instead of calling crimes by their proper name, it emboldens Israel to continue its policies of oppression, dispossession, and violence against Palestinians. International acquiescence, decorated by meaningless talk of a “two-state solution”, is the backbone of the inherently undemocratic one-state reality we live in. Everyone knows – in European capitals and in this parliament – that more statements will not stop the next demolition. When the lines have nothing in them, Israel doesn’t even have to read between them to recognize a green light to continue oppressing Palestinians. Without real consequences, that green light will continue to shine.”

Palestine’s Olive Harvest: Farmers Under Attack,

[VIDEO] “We traveled to the Nablus district in the northern occupied West Bank, which is home to dozens of rural Palestinian villages, like the town of Burin, which is surrounded by a number of illegal Israeli settlements. The Israeli settlers in the Nablus district are notoriously violent and are routinely recorded as attacking Palestinians and their property year round. But once the olive harvest comes around every year, the Israeli settlers typically focus their attacks onto Palestinian farmers and their olive trees.”

Normalization / News from Region

Bahrain ministers said making first official visit to Israel for three-way talks,

“Two Bahraini ministers will make the first official visit to Israeli by ministers from the Gulf kingdom later this week to take part in a trilateral meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli and US officials, the Walla news site reported Sunday. The Wednesday meeting is expected to be attended by Prime Minister Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al- Zayani.”

US, Israel worked together to track and kill al-Qaida No. 2,

“The United States and Israel worked together to track and kill a senior al-Qaida operative in Iran earlier this year, a bold intelligence operation by the two allied nations that came as the Trump administration was ramping up pressure on Tehran. Four current and former U.S. officials said Abu Mohammed al-Masri, al-Qaida’s No. 2, was killed by assassins in the Iranian capital in August. The U.S. provided intelligence to the Israelis on where they could find al-Masri and the alias he was using at the time, while Israeli agents carried out the killing, according to two of the officials. The two other officials confirmed al-Masri’s killing but could not provide specific details.”

Are Israel and the US planning to attack Iran?,

“The speculation has a number of catalysts. First was the firing of Mark Esper as secretary of defense this past week and the replacement of him and other top Pentagon officials with Trump ideologues. Some media outlets in the US have raised the possibility that Trump wanted to get Esper out of the way, so he could more easily carry out controversial military moves. In addition, there is no doubt that there is a lot of coordination already taking place on Iran. Elliott Abrams, the administration’s top envoy on Iran, was in Israel this week for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be here next week for three days to continue those conversations; and on Thursday night, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi held a video call with his US counterpart, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley. And then there was the interview that H.R. McMaster, Trump’s former national security adviser, gave to Fox News on Wednesday in which he raised the possibility that Israel – fearful of President-elect Joe Biden’s Iran policies – would attack Iran in the twilight of Trump’s term in office…While anything is possible – especially with Trump – there does not seem to be an immediate urgency right now to attack. There are also no signs of activity in the IDF that would indicate a possible war, like beefing up forces in the North or preparing the home front for the missile onslaught that will likely follow. On the other hand, we should not necessarily expect to see moves that would give away a strike in the planning. In 2007, ahead of Israel’s bombing of Syria’s nuclear reactor, almost no one knew about it within the IDF, let alone throughout the country.”

The Israeli Domestic Scene

Knesset to vote on anti-Bibi bill,

“The Knesset will vote on Wednesday on a bill that would prevent anyone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister, the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem faction announced on Sunday. The bill is intended to harm Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, and to test whether Blue and White would vote for it. The proposed legislation was part of Blue and White’s platform for three elections. KAN reported on Sunday morning that preparations in Blue and White are underway for what the party will do once it leaves the coalition. The report said the party would focus on “ideological legislation” in its platform, such as legalizing gay couples adopting children from surrogate mothers, and not personal legislation against Netanyahu.”

Gantz: If Netanyahu doesn’t get a grip, Knesset will disband,

“Speaking at the start of his Blue and White party’s weekly faction meeting, Gantz expressed frustration at cabinet stagnation in making decisions on dealing with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and the easing of a national lockdown ordered to curb the virus spread….In a bold step aimed at creating leverage over the prime minister, Gantz also said that he he had instructed party member MK Eitan Ginzburg to gather together “all of the relevant bills that will advance equality, fight corruption and other values that are important to us.” The move would potentially include putting forward legislation to limit the term of the prime minister or prevent a prime minister from serving under indictment — proposals that would likely have the backing of a majority of the Knesset if supported by Blue and White but would almost certainly result in the breakup of the coalition. Gantz’s threat to Netanyahu comes against a backdrop of increasing rhetoric from Blue and White lawmakers — led by Gantz himself — indicating that the current unity government is coming to an end over the failure to pass a state budget. If no budget is passed by late December the government will automatically dissolve. Netanyahu is widely believed to be stalling on the budget in order to call snap elections and avoid an agreed-upon handover of power next year to Gantz. Israel held three rounds of elections between April 2019 and March 2020.”

Judge in PM's corruption cases denies delay bid,

“A bid by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay the evidentiary stage of his trial for corruption was denied Sunday in Jerusalem District Court. Netanyahu’s attorney had asked that the November 29 deadline for the defense to respond to the indictment be extended as the prime minister is seeking to end confidentiality of investigation materials and amend the charges he faces…The request came at the close of the third hearing in Netanyahu’s corruption trial, during which both sides briefed the court on developments in investigation materials and set dates for future court sessions.”

Jerusalem court holds hearing on Netanyahu's corruption cases,

“The third hearing in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial was held in Jerusalem District Court on Sunday.Both sides briefed the court on developments in investigation materials and have set dates for future discussions.”

The Palestinian Political Scene

Palestinians say they look forward to working with Biden administration,

““All US administrations have been biased in favor of Israel,” one official told The Jerusalem Post. “But the Trump administration was not only biased toward Israel; in fact, it represented the views of the right-wing parties in Israel and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. The Trump administration was more pro-Israel than many Israelis I know.” While the Palestinian leadership was relieved the Trump era is nearing its end, the Palestinians are still not sure whether Biden will have the courage to rescind some of the “anti-Palestinian” decisions taken by the Trump administration, the official said.”

Mohammad Shtayyeh most likely to replace Erekat as negotiator - report,

“One of the reasons, according to the source, is that senior Palestinian leaders fear Shtayyeh’s growing popularity as prime minister. “

Presidency denounces Pompeo’s planned visit to Israeli settlements,

“Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said today that US Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo’s decision to visit Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is a provocation to the Palestinian people and leadership, and a blatant disregard to the resolutions of the international community, on top of which is the UNSC Resolution 2334. “Israel is trying to benefit from the unlimited support of the current US administration, which has provided it with all possible support for the sake of settlement expansion and the takeover of more Palestinian lands,” said Abu Rudeineh.”


New Israel Fund supported left-wing organizations ahead of elections, records show,

“A 2019 financial report issued by the New Israel Fund revealed that the left-wing NGO donated millions of shekels to leftist organizations that tried to meddle with the Israeli elections held in April and September that year. Organizations like Zazim, Standing Together, and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, used their influence to boost the Left’s campaign during the 2019 elections. Records show that during that time, the New Israel Fund increased its financial support of these groups by 75%, compared to the same period in 2018….The New Israel Fund said in a statement, “Israel Hayom‘s claim is entirely unfounded. From a simple examination of the data, it is evident that there is a difference in support for each of the organizations mentioned, in stark contrast to what has been described. The article focuses on a few of the hundreds of organizations that received support from the New Israel Fund. The NIF does not promote political candidates. It aims to promote equality and justice and a strong Israeli democracy.””

EDITOR’s NOTE: This is part of an effort to smear and ultimately shut down the work of not-for-profit organizations critical of Israeli government policies. See additional FMEP resources on this lawfare here:[]=360

Zoom Censorship of Palestine Seminars Sparks Fight Over Academic Freedom,

“Zoom’s intervention adds a new layer to the long-running debate on university campuses over the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but its implications reach far beyond that, several scholars and free speech advocates warned. The platform’s censorship has raised questions about the role of private tech companies in curtailing academic freedom and constitutionally protected speech, particularly in the context of public universities. The incidents also reignited criticism of a controversial definition of anti-Semitism promoted by pro-Israel groups and endorsed by President Donald Trump in an executive order issued last year, which critics say severely limits all debate of Israeli policy. At a time when the pandemic has seen much of university life move to private online platforms, many feared that Zoom’s censorship marked a slippery slope.”

Top Analysis & Commentary

After Trump, restoring ‘normal’ US policy on Palestine isn’t enough,

“In short, Biden’s policy will likely be to once again promote a meaningless charade of “peace negotiations” that merely ask Israel to respect Palestinian rights, knowing full well that it will not, only to then hand over the weapons with which Israeli forces brutalize Palestinians. If Biden sticks to this grievous and self-defeating approach, then the Trump-to-Biden transition for Palestinians will have been like escaping the guillotine only to land on the waterboarding table.”

How should Joe Biden deal with Middle East issues? – opinion,

“The US-Israel agenda is clear and Biden will not stray from accepted norms over many years. That includes the very tight US-Israel security relationship in all of its many levels. The Biden administration should go back to the policy of defining clear lines that should not be crossed by Israel regarding settlement construction. While I believe the two-state solution might no longer be possible based on the Oslo paradigms, it would be counter-productive for Israel to continue to the policy encouraged by the Trump administration of massive construction outside of the settlement blocs. Biden needs to establish understandings with Israel on this issue.”

With Biden’s election, Israeli left relevant again,

“During Trump’s four years in the White House, however, Peace Now and the entire Israeli left found themselves pushed to the margins. They lost any influence they had on the national agenda. In terms of messaging, this was an awful period for them, impacting even their ability to raise donations. They were hurt by just about everything that Trump did for which the settlers were grateful. This included deep diplomatic deadlock, a failure to communicate between Washington and the Palestinian Authority, and symbolic moves such as the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. In August and September, when they learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his friend Trump were able to reach normalization agreements with Arab Gulf States, the blow to the left seemed lethal. The paradigm that members of the left had been preaching for decades — that only after peace is reached with the Palestinians would Israel be able to sign agreements with the other Arab states — suddenly seemed to collapse. Peace Now struggled to contend with the changes, which seemed to play into the hands of the right.”